Sophie Adam has joined the Co-Women team via the government Kickstart scheme in the role of Admin and Social Media Assistant. A recent Leeds University graduate, I was keen to know about her experience of studying for her degree during a global pandemic and national lockdown. Here's Sophie's insightful blog post to tell us in her words how she navigated an unusual set of circumstances:
Where do I even start? I think it’s probably best to give a brief overview of my first and second year at university so that a comparison can be made to my final year: the most challenging experience but also the year of university that I can wholeheartedly say I am most proud of.
From memory, my first year ran pretty smoothly. I adjusted to the change of lifestyle quite quickly and actually found university work a lot more manageable and easier to navigate than A-Levels. I did actually once get told that A-Levels will be the hardest two years of your education journey. I think this smooth transition may have also been helped by the fact that I was extremely dedicated to get into the University of Leeds and so when I did, I was committed to the work. Despite this though, you are definitely not spoon fed at university like you are in previous stages of education which I think is the crucial learning curve for most students. Organisation and time management are skills you quickly develop, not because they come naturally to you but because you have to in order to, well, survive. Anyway, I digress.
This year was a bit more bumpy as it consisted of strikes, which meant months of self-teaching and learning, (not exactly what I signed up for I must admit) and then the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020. As you can imagine, transitioning from a smooth-sailing first year (where I thought this university thing was easy!!) to teaching myself the rest of the syllabus was a shock to the system. This was especially as second year counts towards your final grade so every piece of coursework and exam grade was significant. I remember feeling disheartened that my degree journey was becoming quite turbulent. For anyone that knows me will know that I don’t cope too well with uncertainty and so the phrase “these are unprecedented times” understandably filled me with a great deal of dread. The uncertainty as to how the pandemic would affect my degree and thus my future was far from reassuring.
The sudden announcement of a global pandemic saw students packing up their belongings fast and there was the instant feeling of regret, questioning “why did my younger self insist on moving as far away as possible from home to become ‘independent’?!”. Suddenly the North felt worlds away from my hometown in Brighton and I no longer felt so independent. I felt scared and overwhelmed, as did everyone.
March marked the beginning of online learning and a lot of searching for motivation that had been lost amongst the scare mongering. Despite lecturers trying their utmost to provide the best teaching possible, this was hampered by poor wifi connections and necessity for exceptional IT skills. Envisage 60 minute long lectures with the lecturer unintentionally on mute, laptops continuously freezing, screen sharing powerpoint presentations not working - leaving lecturers frantically trying to find their notes; it was chaos. Completing coursework without in person teaching was hard and exams were cancelled. As you can imagine, students had a lot of questions but university staff had few answers. Thankfully though, June arrived and all coursework was successfully submitted so I could enjoy summer…oh wait no, we were still in a global pandemic. No seeing friends or loved ones that didn’t live with you, no pubs, restaurants, nothing. What a great way to celebrate completing second year during a pandemic!! Not.
This brings me to my final year. This year was undoubtedly the most disconnected experience to date. Face to face open doors turned into audio calls with staff where you would feel a complete and utter nuisance requesting yet another Microsoft Teams meeting. This constant feeling was difficult to battle because navigating a project as big as a dissertation required guidance.
Seminar rooms filled with loud and engaged students became 10 grey squares on mute, too nervous to contribute on a Teams call. Strolling into campus for lectures and meeting friends in your breaks was no longer, instead you were confined to your 4 bedroom walls. Achieving 10,000+ steps every day? No chance. I mean if you wanted to, you had to go out of your way to make that happen. I’m talking running up and down the stairs and pacing around your bedroom make it happen. Or numerous laps around the same park would do the job (if the weather permitted!) because the pandemic made people a bit too comfortable I think. Suddenly the slightest bit of rain meant leaving the house was a no go even though trekking to lectures through rain, snow or a storm used to be the norm without question.
Motivation levels were low because us students knew there was no reward at the end: a drink at the pub, a nice meal or perhaps even booking a holiday. These were now privileges of the past that we definitely took for granted. Don’t get me wrong, picnics and walks outside are nice but the repetitiveness of it all started to kick in. What was even harder though was actually trying to complete work with a Covid positive result. A freshly cooked meal after a hard day of essay writing was useless because I couldn’t taste or smell the bloody thing! What was even more frustrating than this though, was having to isolate when your housemates had Covid. Suddenly you’d yearn for those laps of the same park, or that picnic in the same spot. That’s when university work became really tough because you were stuck inside with the same people for 2 whole weeks. Can you imagine the writer's block??? You couldn’t even go to the gym to reset and get the brain cogs working.
Working with coursemates freely and spontaneously was replaced with a library booking system where you sat on your own and had to wear your mask for the whole duration. I never thought getting a library ticket would become harder than obtaining tickets for a club event or concert. You’d be at the ready at 3pm on the daily just so you could secure a seat to study. What a time to be alive!! I don’t think you can imagine the migraines and headaches from doing a 9hr+ shift at the library. In a heatwave. Wearing a mask. While the rest of the nation were soaking up the sun and getting tans. It was hard.
However, despite all the above challenges, I somehow managed to pull it out of the bag and achieve a First Class Sociology degree with honours and I couldn’t be prouder. This just goes to show that hard work really does pay off. Most importantly though, a bit of confidence in your abilities and self-belief goes a long, long way. Take it from someone who definitely struggles with imposter syndrome at the best of times.